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Nuggetpalooza’s Patriots Preview: At Pittsburgh

11.12.10 at 9:16 am ET
By

Sunday night in Pittsburgh could really begin provide some insights into what these Patriots are capable of doing this season. Are they just good?  Or are they a bonafide contender for the Super Bowl? Can’t wait to find out. This one should be a real corker.

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* – Only four teams in the NFL have allowed two or more touchdowns in every game this season: Denver, Houston, Jacksonville, and the New England Patriots.

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* – The Steelers lead the league in fewest points allowed (15.4 per game) but 51 percent of those points have come in the fourth quarter or later, easily the highest percentage in the league:

51% – Steelers
44% – Browns
40% – Ravens (does not include Thursday night)

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* – I’ll have lots more on the passing games of these two teams later on, but here’s a good one: When the Patriots throw to their wide receivers MORE than 10 yards downfield, they’ve completed just 30 percent of those throws, the lowest percentage in the league:

30.2% – Patriots
31.3% – Lions
33.3% – Chiefs

Having said that, when New England DOES complete those passes, their average yards at the point of the catch (20.1) is fifth highest in the league.

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re wrong: Tom Brady’s completion percentage on those throws (to wide receivers more than 10 yards downfield) has IMPROVED since the Randy Moss trade:

With Moss: 4-for-21 (19%)
Without Moss: 9-for-22 (41%)

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* – Pittsburgh leads the league in average starting field position (33.4 yard line) while the Patriots have faded to 18th (average start at the 29.5).

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* – The Patriots have allowed 350 or more yards in their last six games, the second longest current streak in the NFL (Houston, 8). It’s just the second time since at least 1990 that the Patriots have had such a streak of six or more games (they had an eight game streak in 2005).

Note this: The Steelers have allowed LESS than 350 yards in their last 10 straight games, the longest such streak in the league.

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* – Six more drops last Sunday for Patriots’ receivers. They’ve now dropped 12 percent of catchable balls this year, the worst mark in the league.

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* – Slump? Pittsburgh’s defense allowed four touchdowns in their first four games and has allowed seven touchdowns in their last four (and five in their last two).

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* – Through their first five games, the Patriots had six kickoff returns of 30 yards or more. But over their last three contests, they haven’t had any. In fact, they’ve returned 14 kickoffs in their last three games and only three times have they gone for even 20 yards.

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* – The Patriots had two drives of 10 or more plays last week and scored touchdowns on both of them. For the season, they are averaging 5.5 points on those drives (ranked first). Pittsburgh’s offense is averaging 4.3 points on those drives (third) and is the only NFL team that has scored points on all of their drives of 10 plays or more (9-for-9). New England has allowed points on 16-of-17 such drives this season (94 percent; ranked last).

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* – Tom Brady’s first four games: 95-of-122 passes called catchable (78 percent, ranked first). Brady’s last four games:  94-of-141 called catchable (67 percent, ranked 14th).

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* – Pittsburgh has allowed only seven rushes of 10 or more yards this season, the fewest in the league. New England hasn’t been too shabby at this either, allowing 19 such plays (ninth-fewest).

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* – On third down and long (six or more yards), the Patriots have converted just 4-of-27 tries over the last four weeks (15 percent), ranked 30th in the league in that span. For the season, the Steelers are allowing just 27 percent conversions in those situations (15-for-56).

Note this too: New England has been under 30 percent overall on third downs in three of their last four games. The last time they had such a streak? 2003.

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* – Net pass plays of 20 or more yards (i.e. offensive 20+ pass plays minus 20+ pass plays allowed): Pittsburgh: Plus 3. New England: Minus 2. Compare those to the top two in the league: San Diego (+24) and the New York Giants (+18).

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* – The Steelers have attempted to go on fourth down just twice this season, the fewest tries in the league (they’re 0-for-2). Opponents are 7-for-9 on fourth down against the Pats, though, tied for the second-most successes in the NFL.

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* – 27 percent of scoring drives vs. the Steelers (7-of-26) have been short ones (40 yards or less), the highest such percentage in the NFL. Just nine percent of scoring drives against New England have come in that fashion (fifth-lowest).

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* – The Steelers are fumbling at the fifth-highest rate in the NFL (2.1 percent of touches), while the Patriots have put it on the ground at the league’s third-lowest rate (0.7 percent) despite two critical fumbles last Sunday in Cleveland.

Oh, and Pittsburgh’s defense is tied for the NFL lead with 10 opponent fumble recoveries.

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* – The Patriots allowed four rushing touchdowns last Sunday in Cleveland. In their previous 36 games, they had never allowed more than two such touchdowns and they allowed two just once in that span. In addition, they allowed Cleveland 230 rushing yards, their most allowed in a single game since the end of the 2002 season (119 games).

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* – Gostkowski’s gone, so start the comparison here: So far in 2010, 56 percent of New England’s kickoffs have reached the end zone (ninth) and 35 percent have been touchbacks (fourth). Shayne Graham’s career touchback percentage is 8.1 percent, which ranks 20th since 1994 among kickers with at least 500 kickoffs. Who ranks 21st? Steelers’ kicker Jeff Reed (from North Carolina!).

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* – The Steelers’ defense has stopped 51 opponent receptions with zero (or negative) yards after catch (YAC). That accounts for 26 percent of opponent catches. Compare that to just 18 percent “stops” for the Pats’ defense.

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* – I’ve mentioned “grinder yards” before. You get that by removing all the big play rushes of 10 or more yards from the sample to see how effective your team is on the short, “smashmouth”, rushing plays. Well, the Patriots average 2.94 yards on those carries (ranked third-highest), while Pittsburgh’s defense allows 2.29 (fifth-best).

On the other side of the coin, the Steelers’ offense averages 2.08 (27th) while the Pats allow an average of 2.98 (30th). So it’s strength vs. strength when the Patriots have the ball and weakness vs. weakness when the Steelers have it.

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* – Over the last 23 games, the Patriots have outscored their opponents in the first half by a 367-195 margin. In the second half? 254-254.

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Before I let you go, here’s a bunch of random quick hitters on the New England and Pittsburgh passing games:

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* – New England targeted their tight ends a whopping 17 times last Sunday, their most in a game since at least 2003. They’ve targeted their TE’s at least 10 times in three of their last six games. Prior to that, they targeted their tight ends 10 or more times just twice in the previous 55 games.

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* – The Patriots have thrown just 41 times to their running backs this season (eighth fewest), but their average yards per reception (10.71) ranks third and they’ve picked up a first down on 46.4 percent of their catches, the highest percentage in the league.

I also found this interesting: Patriots’ running back receptions have come an average of 1.6 yards downfield, the second longest throws in the league (Colts, 1.7).

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* – One more note about passes to running backs: Brady has completed 83 percent of his pass attempts to RB’s, the second highest percentage in the league (Falcons, 85 percent), and their three touchdown passes to backs is tied for the most in the league.

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* – The Steelers defense has allowed 58 percent completions on passes more than 10 yards downfield (the worst in the league) but the average yards per catch allowed on those throws (19.3) is the lowest in the league, as is their average YAC allowed on those catches (2.3).

The Patriots’ defense has been very similar on those passes: 56 percent completions (second worst) but 20.2 yards per catch (second lowest) and 3.0 YAC allowed (also second lowest).

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* – New England’s 10.5 average yards/catch to wide receivers is the second lowest in the league (Rams, 10.4) and their average yards AT the catch (5.8) by wideouts is the lowest in the league.

Their average yards per catch to wideouts has been under 10 in six of their eight games this season. In the previous two Brady seasons (2007 and 2009) they were under 10 in just 4-of-33 games.

Overall passing to wide receivers: First four games: 66 percent completions, 5.1 average yards at the catch, and 5.0 average YAC. Last four games: 54 percent completions, 6.7 average yards at the catch, 4.4 average YAC.

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* – Brady has taken eight sacks on pass plays in the red zone this season, the most in the league. Pittsburgh’s defense has zero such sacks.

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* – Against blitzes, Brady has thrown one touchdown pass in 89 attempts this season. When there is no blitz, he’s tossed 13 touchdowns (one every 13 attempts). For the record, the Steelers blitz on about 36 percent of opponent pass plays.

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* – The Steelers have attempted a league low 60 passes on first down, but their 73 percent completions on those tries ranks second. Pats’ opponents have thrown 121 times on first down (fourth most) but the Pats have picked off five of those passes (tied for third most).

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* – The Patriots are the only offense in the league that has yet to throw an interception when inside their opponent’s 40-yard-line this season. What’s more, they’ve completed 72 percent of those passes, tops in the league.

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* – When their opponents are pinned inside their own 20-yard-line, the Steelers’ defense has picked off three passes (second most) AND they’ve sacked the quarterback three times (also second most). Interceptions and sacks account for nearly a quarter of those plays this season against the Steelers.

Note this too: When inside their own 20, Brady and the Patriots have completed just 10-of-22 passes (45 percent), the lowest percentage in the league.

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Enjoy the game!

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